In Italy history repeats itself: a general election has been called one year early to avoid a referendum whose result might shake the political and economic establishment represented by the dc, iri and Confindustria. In 1987 nuclear power has taken on the importance of divorce in 1972 and abortion in 1976, with Fanfani being forced into the farcical position of engineering his own parliamentary defeat to stave off the dreaded referendum. Yet, something has changed. However briefly, Alessandro Natta—scorned as grey and bureaucratic by the British Eurocommunist intellectuals who lavished praise on Berlinguer—has shown unexpected political courage in using the April crisis to pursue an alliance with the Socialists and the minor parties of the Left and Centre against the Christian Democrats—to form a maggioranza referendaria, as he puts it. The pci’s offer came a decade too late: Craxi was able slyly to refuse it by insisting that Spadolini from the Republican Party should stand as candidate for the premiership, whereas he knew this to be an impossibility given the Republicans’ commitment to nuclear power as a symbol of scientific progress. Against this background there is little cause to modify the historical analysis that I offered in ‘Judging the pci’. Any hope that the pci might carry through its new-found and as yet hesitant commitment to a potentially very fruitful Left Alternative will depend on the balance of forces revealed by the polls.

Just as the pci appears to be on the verge of abandoning its belief in Historic Compromise, Stephen Gundle operates an even more dramatic volte-face of his own and rushes in to defend Berlinguer’s blunders. Not so long ago, Gundle wrote of ‘the long decade from 1968 to the opening of the 1980s, during which the pci . . . policed the working class through different forms of controls and pressures and . . . [committed] itself to the preservation of existing institutions at all costs.’ footnote1 Rather than dwell any longer on Gundle’s earlier positions, however—positions which involved more or less undiluted adherence to the spontaneist theories of Autonomia Operaia—I will confine myself to four of the principal questions raised in his critique.

First, Gundle argues that American policy towards Italy in 1977–78 is hard evidence of the pci’s radicalism; that if Washington was so anxious to exclude it from office it could not have been a ‘sheep in sheep’s clothing’. In reality, however, this episode tells us far more about the extremely aggressive nature of the American imperialist wolf than it does about the intentions of the gentle Berlinguerian sheep. US imperialism has long been accustomed to regard even the mildest of reforms in the smallest of Latin American countries as a direct threat to its own security—Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Chile, El Salvador, Argentina, Grenada and Nicaragua have all experienced American intervention, direct or indirect, successful or unsuccessful. Even Harold Wilson’s Labour Government of 1974–76 was subjected to a concerted campaign of destabilization, in which the cia made ample use of its subservient British counterparts. Most recently, Kinnock’s illjudged visit to the United States, far from placating Reagan, revealed a bipartisan American consensus that British Labour governments are not to be trusted. If Washington believed that Harold Wilson, who had given unwavering support to its outrages against the Vietnamese people, was an agent of Moscow, American hostility to Berlinguer hardly proves that the Italian leader was an ardent revolutionary.

Secondly, Gundle maintains that the contrast between the 1968 and 1972 election results indicates a decisive decline in the strength of the Far Left groupings associated with 1968, limiting the pci’s ability to shift to the left. Despite appearances, this argument does not rest on firm foundations in empirical psephology. In 1968 the psiup gained 4.5 per cent of the popular vote and 23 seats, and it is true that this figure had fallen to 3.2 per cent by the time of the 1970 regional elections. But it must be remembered that while Lelio Basso’s longstanding advocacy of Luxemburgist Marxism had made the psiup very responsive to the movements of 1967–69, a good part of the psiup’s electoral support was drawn from an older generation of traditional Socialists angry with Nenni for reunifying the psi with Saragat’s psdi and allying with their traditional opponents in the dc, and that after the schism of 1969, which once more separated the psi and psdi, these older voters may have been prepared to transfer their allegiances to Riccardo Lombardi’s leftwing current within the psi. The 1972 general election itself was not quite the disaster for the Far Left that Gundle claims it was. The failure of the psiup, Il Manifesto and mpl to secure a single deputy was a result of their self-destructive sectarian competition; their combined vote, 3 per cent, would have not only exceeded the quota but nearly equalled the Radicals’ 1979 peak of 3.5 per cent. Moreover Lotta Continua, the dominant far-left organization in Turin and the largest nationally, upheld a rigidly abstentionist position until 1973, when it suddenly turned to a line of support for the pci that first took practical effect in the regional elections of 1975. For its part, Potere Operaio remained rigidly abstentionist and anti-parliamentarian until its dissolution in 1974. Needless to say, none of these facts is offered as any sort of apology for the grave political weaknesses and errors of the Italian Far Left, which I have discussed at some length in ‘Judging the pci’.

Thirdly, Gundle lays great stress on the argument about secularization in Italy. In fact, his strangely worded references to ‘civil rights issues’ leading to an ‘opening up of family law’ have made me acutely aware that ‘Judging the pci’ did not state with sufficient clarity my position on the close relationship between the struggle for socialism and the struggle for women’s rights, although the relevant section (pp. 24–25) should have given an attentive reader some indication of where I stood. To put it bluntly, Gundle, despite his talk of ‘ethical and cultural problems’ and a considerable openness to Green themes, still adheres to a view of politics in which issues connected with gender have little or no place—or, at least, to a politics that has never engaged with the demands of the women’s movement. In 1919 or 1921 the Italian Left could still seek a majority from an entirely male electorate; since 1946, when women won the vote, this has no longer been possible, let alone desirable. But while a large number of women were involved in industry or agriculture, many were not. As long as the Left concerned itself exclusively with economic questions, it risked appearing irrelevant to the needs of women, who, if isolated from the community of the factory or trade union, would be inclined to listen respectfully to the promptings of the parish priest. It is also worth pointing out that the pci’s traditional patriarchal attitudes were undoubtedly one of the major factors in the defection of a number of its leading female cadres in the late 1960s—Rossana Rossanda, Luciana Castellina and Maria Antonietta Maciocchi being the prime examples.

Just as Gundle’s assessment of the losses entailed in secularization might be seen as rather a male view—Italian women would not look back on the traditionally large Catholic family with unallayed nostalgia—it also seems a rather northern Italian perspective. For some of the negative features of Italian life which Gundle, echoing Berlinguer, attributes to ‘the spread of ideologies typical of neo-capitalism’—in other words, secularization and modernization—have very little to do with either and are at their most pronounced in the South, the stronghold of what the American anthropologist Banfield called ‘amoral familialism’. The prevalence of clientelism and the power of the Mafia and Camorra in Sicily and southern Italy—while they have taken new forms with the shift from speculative building to heroin trafficking footnote2 —are the legacies of a much older, pre-capitalist social structure. In Palermo an atomized working class has never been successfully organized to resist the rich and powerful by collective action, and any ephemeral triumphs in Naples have been gained only as a result of the voluntarism of dedicated local Communists, not traditions of some organic community under siege from consumer capitalism. The sottoproletariato has never known an organic community, only the war of each against all.

Finally, after deploring the hold of consumerism, Gundle argues that ‘the rejection of industrial capitalism as a system is also strongly present’ in Italy in 1987 and cites the campaign for the three referenda on nuclear power. But he is being disingenuous in linking the pci’s belated conversion to the anti-nuclear cause with the legacy of Berlinguer’s moralism and anti-modernism, even if opposition to nuclear energy is widespread among ordinary Catholics and is therefore a source of grave anxiety for the dc. Gundle is perfectly well aware that the pci’s change of line was a desperate and delayed response to the opportunism of Martelli and Craxi, who had themselves imposed a new line on the psi a few days previously in response to the move towards the German Greens by the spd Congress in August 1986. footnote3 The main force behind the collection of signatures for the referenda was the ever active Democrazia Proletaria, whose minuscule organization was able by its own efforts to secure almost the entire quota of half a million names. footnote4 No other party leader joined Capanna this Easter in the enormous chain formed round one of Italy’s nuclear power stations; Craxi, Natta and Pannella were all too concerned with the intricate parliamentary manoeuvres that preceded the calling of the general election. Democrazia Proletaria and the Italian Greens, who have previously only contested local elections in Northern Italy, will be presenting nationwide lists in the June elections—whether the Radicals will be doing so remains unclear at the moment of writing. Therefore, pace Gundle, it is highly unlikely that the pci will gather much of the ecological vote, despite its blatantly instrumental last-minute effort to persuade prominent environmentalists to stand in its list.